The Woodstock music festival is iconic when it comes to the musical history of America. During the last month of summer in the 1960s, thousands of young hopefuls came together and defined their era and the entire generation. The festival was a hub for sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, and remained just as significant 50 years later! It’s a festival that changed the world; however, the story behind it is often misunderstood.
For starters, Yasgur’s dairy farm was 43 miles away from the actual Woodstock. That’s not even walking distance! How did such a famous festival, have so much misleading information? Who started it? What about the festival is true? And what is just a myth? Here is the true story of what happened in upstate New York during that legendary weekend in August 1969. We included some fun facts about Woodstock and debunking some of the rumors. Here is the story of Woodstock and how it became so epic.
In the 1960s, musical innovation was on the rise. Four men in their 20’s thought it would be a great business opportunity to harness on its popularity on a huge scale. That’s when they came up with the idea for the Woodstock music festival. John Roberts, Artie Kornfeld, Joel Rosenman, and Michael Lang put their skills together to make their idea possible.
In 1968, Lang had already organized the Miami Music Festival, and it was extremely successful. Kornfeld was the youngest vice president that Capital Records has ever had. Roberts and Rosenman were young New York City entrepreneurs. The four friends loved music and wanted to make money off of their passion. They started off by forming Woodstock Ventures, Inc. Next, they needed to find some talent.
Woodstock Ventures quickly earned respect and credibility when Creedence Clearwater Revival agreed to perform in April 1969. They were the first to agree to perform, but the lineup was quickly growing. Unfortunately, it became a problem to secure the venue. Initially, the Woodstock festival was supposed to take place at Howard Mills Industrial Park in Wallkill, New York.
Although the four organizers leased the place for $10,000, they changed locations. Roberts later explained, “The vibes weren’t right there. It was an industrial park. I just said, ‘we gotta have a site now.’” Woodstock is now one of the most famous music festivals, but at the time, the town didn’t want the disruption, so they back out.
During the height of this counterculture movement, the thought of having thousands of hippies take over their little town was understandably troubling for Wallkill officials. On July 15th, the town backed out and passed legal laws, including a portable toilet ban, in order to make it nearly impossible to hold a festival there.
Just one month before the historic concert, the four organizers still had absolutely no idea where they were going to hold it. Luckily, they met a 49-year-old dairy farmer named Max Yasgur who kindly gave them permission to rent part of his property. It turned out that the White Lake area in Bethel, surrounded by the Catskill Mountains, was perfect for the Woodstock festival.
The preparations for Woodstock was filled with problems, chaos, and spontaneous solutions. As soon as they locked down talent and the venue, logistics became the main issue. A successful music festival requires infrastructure, security, and regulation. Unfortunately, Woodstock had difficulties with each one of those requirements.
Even some main essential like ticket booths and fencing off the area wasn’t completed by the time people started storming in. Concession stands, bathrooms, and a room for the performers were all missing before Showtime. Long later explained that this might have been an oversight. All four of the organizers were more focused on other elements like quality, entertainment, and food. That was their number one priority, and everything else took more of a backseat.
Long explained, “You do everything you can to get the gates and fences finished- but you have your priorities. People are coming, and you need to be able to feed them and care for them and give them a show. So you have to prioritize.” Their solution was heartfelt, but not such a good financial decision. Since there was no way to charge attendees efficiently, they decided to make it free.
Obviously, the four entrepreneurs lost an untold amount of money (which they ultimately made it back with their Oscar-winning documentary on the festival). Originally, the festival was supposed to host no more than 50,000. However, way more showed up, and Woodstock made history. Half a century later, the Woodstock festival is just as iconic.
Woodstock Ventures pre-sold over 100,000 tickets for the festival. At least 50,000 people already started camping out on the Yasgur property by August 13th. The official number of people who showed up was somewhere between 400,000 and one million people! There is a huge chance free admission was a factor.
Unfortunately, some people had to be evacuated. The campgrounds were flooding, and sadly, two people lost their lives. Although the masses of people who showed up at the festival were free-spirited, there was absolute chaos. The situation was far less revolutionary than the festival itself. It wasn’t exactly a peaceful event filled with hippies, there was complete and utter mayhem, as you can imagine with such a large quantity of people.
“It was big. You knew it was a really momentous and special thing — and I was nervous. The fact that freeways were all clogged for 50 miles around was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty unusual.’ We were taken by helicopter and dropped at the Holiday Inn and allowed to sleep a little bit, and from there, we were taken by helicopter, this shaky old World War II thing that I was also really nervous about; only two of us at a time could fit in it.
We arrived in daylight and saw all these people, and it was like, ‘Oh my god…’ Once I was on the ground and I looked around I was just nervous the whole time I was there because with half a million people there were no rules.” – John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, 2009.”
Naturally, with such a large quantity of people, more problems occurred. There was a lack of sanitation and not enough food and water for hundreds of thousands of people. Still, Woodstock was famously a peaceful event. At the time, the news was focused on the Vietnam War and political assassination; meanwhile, a counterculture generation made up of young music enthusiasts were at Woodstock, focused on love and peace.
Dr. William Abruzzi was the festival’s chief medical officer; he said that “There people are really beautiful. There has been no violence whatsoever, which is really remarkable for a crown of this size.” That is pretty surprising. Hundreds of thousands of people together for three days and not even one fight broke out.
Many people think that the reason for this kind of serenity was because of the psychedelics and the “make love, not war,” mantra, which was a big part of the counterculture of the 1960s. That seems like a pretty reasonable explanation to me. The only reason why many people can get along for three days straight is if they are on drugs. That can also be a reason many of these attendees gave birth nine months later.
With hundreds of thousands of attendees, it’s not shocking that the highways and streets were filled were jam-packed! The traffic got so bad that cars were completely stopped. Some people literally left their cars in the street and walked to the camp. Others started their own party in, on, and around their cars.
There were two fatalities that happened at Woodstock, but they were both accidents. A tractor accidentally ran over a teenager when he was sleeping in front of the vehicle. The other death was due to a drug overdose. Sadly, it’s not shocking that someone died of a drug overdose. What is surprising, though, is that only one person overdosed in a party filled with such a large quantity of drugs and people.
Think about it; just two deaths in a group of over 400,000 festivalgoers. There was a medical tent staffed with EMTs, nurses, and doctors. Most incidents were pretty minor, and the common ones were food poisoning, fatigue, and wounded bare feet. Not nearly as bad as it could have been.
However, it has been reported that throughout the three-day festival, eight women suffered miscarriages. The festival organizers also hired Hog Farm, the California hippie commune, so that they can create a playground that kids can go to while their parents were at the festival. They also established a test for people to calm down once they have taken too many psychedelics.
Wavy Gravy, the head of Hog Farm, sprayed seltzer water and threw pies on anyone overstepping their boundaries. Four days before the festival began, Gravy announced, “We’re the hippie police.” When it came to safety, there were only about 12 officers at a festival that had an estimated half a million people.
Virtually, there were no police or infrastructure at Woodstock, other than a medical tent, food, and relaxation areas. However, no one lost their sanity. All of the concert-goers dealt with the unfortunate conditioned without causing any violence. It turns out, the mob of hippies made an outstanding impression on the locals and even the cops.
The head of Monticello Village stated, “Notwithstanding their personality, their dress, and their ideas. They are the most courteous, considerate, and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact within my 24 years of police work.” Again, the shocking part is that he is referring to a group of half a million people. They were kind to the police, so they liked their attitude.
Without actual music, Woodstock would have been nothing but a three-day summer camp. But there were some legendary performers who took the stage at the festival. In addition to globally loved icons, promising local talents also had the chance to shine. It was definitely a memorable lineup.
In total, thirty-two acts performed at the festival, and any of them were legendary. Since there was a free stage with an open mike, concertgoers got to show off their talent and sing to each other. On Friday, August 15th, at approximately 5pm, Richie Havens opened at Woodstock as the first performer on stage. He got the crowd pumped and dancing, ready for an unbelievable three days.
Richie Haven didn’t even know he was opening the show. “I was supposed to be the fifth on stage, and no one at the whole festival went on when they were supposed to. I came on one of those glass bubble helicopters and saw Tim Hardin under the stage, sort of playing by himself. I knew he wasn’t going on first. I didn’t want to either, but I had the least number of instruments, so… I thought, ‘God, three hours late. They’re gonna throw beer cans at me. They’re gonna kill me.’”
As we know, there was no violence at Woodstock, so nobody hurt him. In fact, Havens went on to say, “The reaction was, ‘Thank God somebody’s finally going to do something.’ They were happy.” What a perfect crowd.
In 2009, Richie Havens said, “I was supposed to sing for 40 minutes, which I did, and I walked off the stage, and the people were great, and then [the organizers] said ‘Richie, four more songs?’ OK. I went back, and they were still clapping, so I sang four other songs, went off again, then I hear, ‘Richie, four more songs?’ They did that to me six times. Two hours and 45 minutes later, I’d sung every song I know.”
His set ended up lasting two-hours! After Richie’s performance, Satchidananda Sarawati and Indian Spiritual master took the stage, and although it was unscheduled, he blessed the crowd. After the crowd was blessed, there were sets from Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, and Arlo Guthrie.
When Joan Baez took the stage as the last act of the evening, she was six months pregnant! The singer famously performed until 2AM on August 16th. As she finished her set, the rain washed away day one of the music festival. She later said, “It was a once in a lifetime thing for me. [Playing on the free stage] was a riot. Whoever was officially taking names and putting people in order didn’t recognize me. I was just one of the lineup. I think I gave my name as Joan.”
She went on to explain that as soon as she saw a guy with flowers in his hair coming towards the stage, she cut one of her songs short so that she would have time to bow politely before he got on there with her.
The lineup was extremely impressive on the first day of Woodstock, and the crowd had a blast. When they woke up one the second day, things got even better. In 2009, Carlos Santana explained, “It was like witnessing an ocean of hair, teeth, eyes, and hands. If you closed your eyes, you could forget the impact of seeing a moving ocean of flesh.” Sounds like psychedelics, but what do I know?
In the afternoon that Sunday, there were a lot of incredible performances by, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, and The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who and Jefferson Airplane.
Stu Cook of Creedence Clearwater Revival said that when they left Los Angeles to get to Woodstock, they had heard that there were already 200,000 people there. However, once they got there, it was no longer just 200,000 people. He said he had no idea what to expect. They went in there in a little helicopter, and had he said that backstage, he was having a completely different experience than the audience.
He said there was some good stuff to smoke, food, and booze. Whatever he wanted. Stu also said that when he took the stage, there were 500,000 people there and described it as pitch black. He said at about 3AM, it started to get quiet, but then one guy yelled, “We’re with ya,” so they continued to play. The next day they played for 5,000 people, and that’s when they realized that they just had a once in a lifetime experience.
The second day of Woodstock ended at about 9:45AM the next morning. Joe Crocker kicked off day three a little over four hours later. Next up was Country Joe and The Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, and Jimi Hendrix.
David Crosby described his experience. “It was kind of nerve-wracking for us; it was only our second show. Everybody we knew or cared about in the music industry was there. They were heroes to us, The Band, Hendrix, and The Who… They were all standing behind us in a circle, like, ‘OK you’re the new kids on the block, Show us…’”
Ultimately, everyone who performed at Woodstock became a huge part of musical history. Those who attended also experienced an event that turned out to be legendary. However, there were some acts that rejected Woodstock when they were asked to perform. That decision was probably one that they ended up regretting for the rest of their lives.
Just a few of them were Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, The Byrds, Roy Rogers, The Doors, Chicago Transit Authority, John Lennon, and The Rolling Stones. Of course, they had a similar opportunity to perform at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Unfortunately, that concert was filled with stabbings, and it was violent. There was nothing like the Woodstock festival, before or after.
Jimi Hendrix’s set as Woodstock is the most famous, and his performance at the festival has been viewed for decades later. A lesser-known part about his iconic performance is that his set was delayed until Monday morning because of the pouring rain. Initially, the music festival was scheduled to end on Sunday night.
So, when Hendrix took the stage on Monday morning at 9AM, there were only about 30,000 people left at the concert. The longest song performed at Woodstock was when Hendrix sang The Star-Spangled Banner. Many people were exhausted after such an insane concert, and after a three-day vacation, it was time for people to get back to real life. However, it wasn’t easy leaving Bethel New York.
You may remember that on the way to Woodstock, the road was so jam-packed that at a certain point, traffic came to a halt. Well, things weren’t much different on the way back. It only took a matter of minutes for the same roads and highways to get completely jammed up! It’s not surprising, though. I mean, over 400,000 people had to get home.
For the four festival organizers and the Yasgurs, the event wasn’t even close to being over. There was a monumental cleanup session that they were responsible for. The cleaning not only cost them tens of thousands of dollars, but they needed Bulldozers to complete it. It took days, but the property was finally cleaned up.
This insane, historically significant, world-renowned, iconic, three-day concert signifying the peak of the 1960’s counter-culture wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Max Yasgur and his understanding wife, Miriam. It was worth it for the farmer. Not only is he a major part of this historical event, but he when he welcomed a young generation onto his farm, they rubbed off a sense of positivity on him.
On the last day, he told the audience that they proved something to the world. “That a half a million kids, and I call you kids because I have children who are older than you are, a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing by fun and music. And God bless you for it!”
New York Times, on the other hand, didn’t exactly agree. When they covered the festival, the called the three-day legendary concert “an outrageous episode.” They asked, “What kind of culture it is that can produce so colossal a mess?” Well, 50 years later, and the legacy Woodstock has never been considered a mess. Even the police loved the crowd of half a million people.
It was something that can never be replicated. Today, you can go up to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and stand on the exact spot where the 1969 concert took place. In 2006, they opened a 1960s museum and a concert venue. Many of the acts that played at the Woodstock festival returned to perform again, decades later.
Regardless of any music festival that tried to recreate that magical weekend, nothing came close to the Woodstock music festival. Unfortunately, many of the acts have passed away. Since Woodstock 1969, generations have come and gone. For most of us, Woodstock has always been a legend. Something we couldn’t see or touch.
We didn’t get to experience it because most of us weren’t even born yet. However, there were hundreds of thousands of lucky music lovers who were part of this monumental event. This concert is still talked about half a century later and will continue to be an essential part of history and the 1960s counterculture. Although we weren’t there, we can enjoy the story and pretend.
Even though it’s known around the world as The Woodstock Music festival, it actually took place in a completely different town in New York. We mentioned how the first location didn’t work out, but that one was at Woodstock, New York. They tried moving it to Wallkill, but their permits were taken away a month before the event was scheduled to start.
The organizers had no idea what to do or where the concert would take place, so they didn’t change the name. Finally, Max Yasgur came to the rescue when he agreed to let thousands of people came out to his farm for three days. At the point, it was too late to change the name because the organizers thought it might confuse people.
Nowadays, walking into a concert means you can buy overpriced sweat-shirts, hats, and basically anything you can fit a logo onto. We all know spending $50n on a T-shirt that will probably be worn as pajamas doesn’t seem worth it. It’s part of the concert-going experience. Everyone wants a souvenir to remind them of the fun time they had.
Well, at The Woodstock Music Festival, there was no official merchandise to buy. This would have been a great way for the Woodstock organizers to make money, but they seemingly had other things to worry about. The only souvenirs people were able to take home were the show programs and bootleg items that other audience members sold.
Unfortunately, most people didn’t know how legendary Woodstock would be until after it happened. There were millions of people who missed out on the iconic music festival, but in 1970, a documentary was released. It featured epic performances by The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker and Crosby, Santana and Still & Nash.
If you never watched the documentary, I highly recommend it. It won an Academy Award for the best documentary in 1970 and is considered by many as one of the best concert movies of all time. It gave everyone who didn’t get to attend a little sneak peek. The director was Martin Scorsese worked as an assistant director and hand created the documentary. Unsurprisingly, he became a famous director soon after.
Initially, Jeff Beck Group and Iron Butterfly were supposed to play on Sunday when the lineup for the three-day Woodstock festival first came out. Neither group ended up showing up to the epic event. Unfortunately, The Jeff Beck Group (which included Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Aynsley Dunbar, and Ronnie Wood) broke up just weeks before the concert started.
Iron Butterfly, on the other hand, were on their way, but they ended up getting stuck at the airport and couldn’t find a way to get to the concert. Apparently, on the band’s list of demands, they wanted a helicopter ride to the airport. They also wanted payment immediately upon their arrival. None of that happened, considering they missed the festival.
As we mentioned, Rickie Havens opened up the epic Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, but he wasn’t actually supposed to. He ended up playing his set much earlier than he was meant to because the original opening acts were stuck in a crazy traffic jam on the way to the concert. You know what they say, the show must go on.
The singer famously opened the show with a song called Freedom. It is now one of those of the most notable songs played at Woodstock. He sang many encores and played every song he knew in order to fill up more time. At one point, he just started playing guitar and made up songs on the spot. His performance increased Richie’s popularity and boosted his career.
It’s been rumored that the New York State Thruway was shut-down, but that wasn’t the case. Police only closed of exists because of crown control while the Woodstock festival was going on. Arlo Guthrie was the one who told the crowd at Woodstock that “the New York State Thruway is closed man,” but that claim wasn’t exactly true.
Yes, the State Police were forced to close off both the Newburgh and Harriman exist to stop other people from going to the concert. The highway only seemed like it was closed thanks to the overwhelming amount of traffic. The extreme traffic jam went on for 17 miles, and cars trying to get to White Lake from New York were delayed more than eight hours!
As soon as the festivities began, some of the more famous acts such as Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead were asking the money for immediate payment before they performed. Many of the artists even doubled their usual fee because they didn’t really know what the festival would become. They never played at an event like this and weren’t sure if it would even be successful.
John Roberts (one of the concert organizers) used his large trust fund to convince the bank to open on a Saturday night and give him a loan. It worked, but after the festival, the organizers were millions of dollars in debt. That’s what happens when you provide a major concert for hundreds of thousands of people for free. Someone had to cover the expenses.
Before the festival, the organizers had some difficulties nailing down a food supply for the concert. They ultimately used concession workers from Food For Love. Unfortunately, they had no experience with such a large crowd. They quickly got extremely overwhelmed with masses of people coming over to their stands and demanding food.
According to Smithsonian Magazine and they were getting so frustrated with the situation that they shot burger and hotdog prices from 25 cents each to a dollar. Attendees got so annoyed by the wait, and the fact that they shot up the prices that they burned the stand down. Yikes! I guess it’s understandable. Don’t mess with half a million hungry people!
When word spread about the lack of food at Woodstock, residents of Sullivan Country teamed up with the local police department in order to donate 10,000 sandwiches, canned food, water bottles, and fruit. Their generosity was helpful, but it would take forever to get it to the concert. With the insane traffic jam and a lot of supplies, an Army helicopter delivered the goods.
They even included some medical supplies, and everything made it to the concert, thanks to the helicopter. The supplies weren’t the only thing delivered by helicopters. Some of the performers had to get there on a helicopter in order to make it to their performance. Thanks to the traffic jam, helicopters seemed to have been the only way to get there.
There was a rumor going around Woodstock that The Beatles were supposed to make an appearance and perform for the crowd. As some of the main figures in the counterculture, it only made sense for them to show up. Unfortunately, the Fab Four were in London finishing up their Abbey Road album. Paul McCartney also spent that Sunday recording a single for Mary Hopkin, his protégé.
The Beatles attempted to set up their own TV show earlier that year, but they couldn’t even manage that; instead, they performed songs on their office roofs. Meanwhile, Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager, thought they were too good to perform at a concert with dozens of other acts. Instead, he booked them to play in New Jersey that weekend.
Woodstock was intended to be a standard ticketed festival. When the crowds got there before the fences and ticket booths were ready, the organizers declared the concert free, which why hundreds of thousands of people ended up showing up. The site was hit by rain, covered in mud, and had a lack of food and water. It was declared a disaster area.
Sullivan County stated that the festival area was in a state of emergency. Nelson Rockefeller, the Governor of New York, was so stunned by the crowds that he even planned to send in the military. Luckily, John Roberts, one of the festival organizers, talked him out of it. The festival was so close to being shut down; it’s a shock that it lasted as long as it did.
“Chip” Monck is a lights designers that worked at the Monterrey Pop Festival and at the Hollywood Bowl, where The Rolling Stones and The Byrds performed. He worked for 10 weeks to make sure that everything was ready for Woodstock, and he was paid $7,000. Unfortunately, last-minute venue changes caused a few problems.
One issue was that no one was there to introduce the acts on stage. Monck was given this task since he was already there. He also gave the famously warned the crowd about “the brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. It’s suggested that you do stay away from that.” Good thing the lights designer was there to save the day.
As we know, the Woodstock music festival took place on Yasgur’s farm. At the time of the concert, it was already a functioning business site. That means that when the crowds showed up, there were cattle on site. At first, the workers tried to keep them in a fenced area. However, with such a large crowd, people went over the barrier and set up campgrounds.
At that point, they decided just to let the cows wander around the concert and hang out with attendees. Why should they miss out on the fun? George Peavey, one of the Yasgur’s farmworkers, reported that the cows and concertgoers “seem to be getting alone together fine.” That must have been pretty trippy, considering most of the crowd was on acid.
Booking such famous rock stars to play at a festival wasn’t easy and definitely wasn’t cheap. The highest-paid act was Jimi Hendrix, who earned $18,000 to perform (if you calculate inflation, this comes out to roughly $125,000 today). The first act booked was Creedence Clearwater Revival who got $10,000 to play at the Woodstock music festival.
Another popular band was The Who, and they got $6,250; however, other reports state that they actually received $11,200. Joe Crocker was paid relatively less earning $1375, and Sha Na Na got $750. The cheapest act to perform was Quill, who was booked for $375. Wow, that’s just to pay the performers. No wonder the organizers were in so much debt.
A huge part of Woodstock’s reputation was the amount of psychedelics there. Drug use was a huge part of the counterculture in 1969, and at Woodstock, it was seemingly inescapable. That’s probably how a group of half a million people were well-behaved; they were all tripping acid. John Entwistle from The Who said that when he drank his bourbon and coke, he realized the ice was spiked with acid.
Apparently, there were 25 “freak-outs” as a result of drug use every hour, at least during the first night of the festival. Luckily there was medical staff on the site, and so were members of the Hog Farm commune. They stayed and helped the festivalgoers until the drugs wore off.
The popular British rock band, The Who performed on day two of the Woodstock music festival. During their set, they were interrupted by Abbie Hoffman, a political activist. A year prior, Hoffman co-founded the Youth International Party in order to protest the Vietnam War. He climbed on the stand to protest the imprisonment of John Sinclair, the White Panther Party Leader.
It didn’t take long for Pete Townshend to swing his guitar on Hoffman before ushering him off of the stage. He should have seen that coming, and it probably wasn’t worth it. Pete Townshend later said that he thinks that their performance at Woodstock increased the sales of their Tommy album. It makes sense, performing at Woodstock boosted a lot of musical careers.
The positive energy and vibe at Woodstock didn’t end after the concert. Many people left the concert before, or immediately after Hendrix’s iconic closing performance. At that point, the crowd of half a million people turned into about 25,000-30,000 people. As soon as Hendrix finished his set, a crew started cleaning up.
It’s not a shocker that half a million people would leave behind a mess over a three-day concert. We already mentioned how expensive and time-consuming cleaning up was. Co-promoter Michael Lang was on a helicopter surveying the festival site. When the crowd dwindled, he noticed that workers were shoveling the trash into a shape. A peace symbol was created from the trash left behind.
A huge tale going around about Woodstock is that a baby was born there. The rumor spread when John Sebastian famously announced that an “old lady just had a baby,” on stage during his performance. This story has been passed on for decades and widely believed. However, there is absolutely no credible evidence to back this up.
CBS News reported no birth records had been found. What we do know is that many women had fun on Woodstock and left there pregnant. Although there is no evidence of a birth happening at the festival, there were somewhere between four to eight miscarriages. This heartbreaking news was reported from the medical tents that were on-site at the festival.
Michael Wadleigh directed the 1970 documentary Woodstock, and it was edited by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker. It became a cult classic, but it almost didn’t happen. After being rejected by everyone else, Artie Kornfeld begged Fred Weintraub, Warner Bros executive, desperately for money to film the Woodstock festival.
Weintraub believed in him and handed over $100,000 in order to make the film. Warner Bros had no money at the time, so they took an incredible risk. Michael Wadleigh was working with an unpaid crew and promised them that if the film was successful, they would get a double fee! It ended up winning the Best Documentary Academy Award in 1970. I guess the crew ended up getting a nice hefty paycheck.
In total, Roberts, Rosenman, Lang, and Kornfeld spent about $3.1 million to organize the concert (once you calculate inflation, that’s $15 million now)! With paying for acts, food/water, helicopters, and free admission for half a million people, that’s not too shocking. Luckily, Robert’s rich family agreed to cover the major costs temporarily.
Of course, the four organizers promised to pay them back, but it took a while. It wasn’t until the 1980s when they paid off the debt. Thankfully, the successful documentary also helped them make a profit. This is a huge lesson for everyone if you plan an enormous concert, plan ahead and charge admission. It was probably worth it for these four since the iconic Woodstock music festival made history.
The Woodstock music festival had dozens of performers, but only three of the solo acts were women: Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, and Melanie. Joni Mitchell was also scheduled to appear, but he manager convinced her that it would be better for her career to appear on Monday’s The Dick Cavett Show, instead of “sit around in a field with 500 people.”- Big mistake.
Little did he know that it wasn’t 500 people; it was closer to 500,000 people. Plus, all the performers that did attend got a huge career boost. I guess there was no way her manager could have known that before but sadly, she is one of the acts that almost performed at Woodstock. She later admitted that not going is one of her biggest life regrets.
Thanks to the rainstorm, there were a lot of technical issues going on at Woodstock, and many of the acts didn’t perform according to schedule. The Grateful Dead probably had the most technical problems during their set, including a “faulty electrical ground.” Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir both got shocked whenever they touched their guitars!
The band admitted that their worst performance ever was at Woodstock, and they were subsequently left out of Michael Wadleigh’s documentary. Well, I can imagine that it must have been difficult to put on a good show if your guitar is shocking to you. At least they showed up, and they aren’t one of those bands looking back, wishing they were at Woodstock.
Many acts declined to perform at Woodstock, but the band who regretted their decision; the most was perhaps Tommy James and The Shondells. The band was misinformed about the size of Woodstock, so they immediately declined their invitation. James later admitted, “We could have just kicked ourselves.” It just goes to show that nobody knew the success of Woodstock until after it happened.
Tommy explained, “We were in Hawaii, and my secretary called and said, ‘Yeah, listen, there’s this pig farmer in upstate New York that wants you to play in his field.’ That’s how it was put to me, so we passed, and we realized what we’d missed a couple of days later.” I guess I understand. His secretary didn’t exactly make it seem like a once in a lifetime experience.